It would be an understatement to say that the pandemic has affected local musicians. With concerts cancelled, venues shuttered and limited ways in which to rehearse, almost all aspects of being a working musician have been affected by COVID-19.
But musicians have kept the faith and made the most out of a trying year. Writing and recording new songs, learning how to livestream and finding innovative ways to bring music to fans have been just a few of the calling cards of 2020.
Local roots and blues favorite George Gritzbach, who usually spends the year performing with his band, dubbed this year’s theme song The Grateful Dead’s “What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been.”
Despite its strangeness, Mr. Gritzbach said the year has been a productive one for songwriting and that he hopes to have several new original tunes ready by the spring. The most significant activity he and his band have accomplished this year has been getting their new album, “Full Circle,” ready for release. The album, which will include 10 original songs, has been two years in the making. “Fortunately, the final tracks were recorded by January of this year,” Mr. Gritzbach said.
With recording wrapped up, Mr. Gritzbach spent a good part of 2020 collaborating virtually with engineer and producer Jay Sheehan on developing mixes. “Jay would send a rough, and we would bounce it back and forth until we were both satisfied with the mix.”
Mr. Gritzbach said that initially the lack of being together in the studio felt “clumsy” but that over time they developed an approach that worked well. He suggested a motto for 2020: “Do what you got to do to make it work.”
The quiet also provided time for honing his craft. “I’ve been working on my guitar playing, actually playing scales,” said Mr. Gritzbach, “which I never do.”
“Full Circle” is now in the mastering stage and should be released in early 2021. In addition to Mr. Gritzbach, performers on the album include Scott Lariviere on bass, Christian McCarthy on drums, John Menezes on keys and Peter Murray on saxophone. Information about the release of the album will be available early in 2021 on Mr. Gritzbach’s website and Facebook page.
Performers were able to take advantage of the many drive-in venues that operated this summer and fall, providing much-needed opportunities for outdoor concerts. Rockabilly favorites Sarah Swain & the Oh Boys! were able to play at one such venue, the Payomet Drive-In, which operated at the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Highlands Center in Truro well into the fall. “We rehearsed in my garden and played some great live drive-in shows,” said Ms. Swain, adding that the band also filmed content for some upcoming online mini-concerts that will be released monthly starting in January. “Other than that, I wrote a couple of new songs,” said Ms. Swain. “I’m just hoping I don’t get too rusty before we can play outside again this spring.”
Saxophonist Bruce Abbott was able to record and release new music this year. “Beneath the Stars,” recorded by himself in his home studio, includes works for solo saxophone as well as a duet and quartet made possible by the technique of overdubbing. The album includes two of his original compositions along with music by J.S. Bach, Benjamin Britten and Eugene Bozza.
Mr. Abbott, who regularly performs from Provincetown to Plymouth and beyond, called the cancellation of live performances this year a “devastating blow to our musical world.” Despite the setbacks Mr. Abbott said he experienced a creative burst fueled by his wife’s suggestion to designate at least one day a week as an “artist retreat day to work uninterrupted.” Mr. Abbott said working on compositions, practicing and recording, “filled in all those empty boxes on the calendar that cancelled performance commitments had left so desolate.”
“Beneath the Stars” is available on streaming platforms, Amazon Music and Apple Music. Physical CDs can be ordered directly from the artist’s website.
Local performer Brian Sances has spent his downtime writing and recording. “In October I recorded what is to be two EPs in Burlington, Vermont with a group I play with called the Sundog Organ Trio,” said Mr. Sances, adding that he’s also been working on his own album, “Free to Fly” which will be released in 2021.
Mr. Sances said he’s done some live streams from his home but he’s also spent time resting and enjoying his family which includes his 18-month old daughter. “It’s been a time of reflection, growth and introspection for certain,” he said.
Singer/songwriter Bruce Marshall lives in Maine but has local connections and plays annually at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. A full-time performer for the past 47 years, Mr. Marshall saw his 200 gig schedule for 2020 drop to 60 shows. Like many other performers, he jumped on the Facebook live stream and started performing virtually. “I think I’ve done 40 Wednesday shows and it’s still going strong.”
While the weekly performances are free, Mr. Marshall gratefully accepts donations. “Folks have been very generous,” he said, theorizing that with fewer people going out to bars, “they have a little extra to give.”
“I’ve used the downtime to work the songwriting angle, both creating new works and working my existing catalog,” said Mr. Marshall. “I’ve put out singles, sang on others CDs for hire and did manage to squeeze in some outdoor gigs through mid-December.” The pandemic has given him time to work on a new CD, which he hopes will be available next year.
Mr. Marshall wasn’t the only one in his family affected by the limitations of the pandemic. “My wife, Michelle, co-writes with me and has her own guitar string jewelry business. She depends on craft shows, so both our vocations require people to congregate.” Mr. Marshall said he and his wife have seen increased sales over the holidays and qualified for unemployment and federal assistance, all of which have allowed them to “hang in there.”
Mr. Marshall said he expects there will be a big demand for live music when it’s safe to go out and is optimistic for the future although even when that time comes he still plans to keep his Wednesday night live stream going. “I’ve come to really enjoy it and lots of folks who can’t come hear me live depend on it. It lifts their spirits and keeps us all sane. My mom loves tuning in and she writes my setlist out and mails it to me, so I can keep track of what I play.”
The pandemic has also provided Mr. Marshall with some perspective he might not have otherwise gained. “I’ve realized now that I don’t want to return to my old frenetic schedule. I’ve enjoyed the free time and got back into boating, hiking, motorcycling and other things I love but never had time for.”
Mr. Marshall’s Wednesday night live streams start at 7 PM and last for 90 minutes.
After first reporting that he’d spent the last nine months “lying around with my feet up, eating grapes and drinking absinthe,” Cape performer Chandler Travis admitted to the polar opposite, having actually “put out more music and videos in one year than ever before.” Mr. Travis’s bands include The Chandler Travis Philharmonic, The Chandler Travis Three-O, The Catbirds, The Incredible Casuals and Travis & Shook. Mr. Travis also did some recording with musical friends including Pete Labonne and Paulette Humanbeing. All these recordings can be found, most of them for free, on Mr. Travis’s website under the merchandise menu.
Just recently Mr. Travis organized the 17th annual Cape Cod Christmas Cavalcade, a fundraiser for the Housing Assistance Corporation. The virtual event, viewable in two parts on YouTube, features archival holiday performances by a host of musicians including Kate & Tad from Sidewalk Driver, Cla Da Bossa Nova, Zoe Lewis, Jordan Renzi, Suede, Toast & Jam, Fred Fried, Broadway Central, Gip Hoppe, Kami Lyle, Tripping Lily, Spampinato Brothers, Christine Rathbun Ernst, Ding Donnelly & Danny Devereaux, Steve Shook & the Elftones and others. The performances will be viewable through the new year.
Falmouth’s Crooked Coast celebrated the release of its catchy new song “Rise & Shine” with a trailer tour in late May, loading up their instruments on a flatbed trailer and driving it to a few neighborhoods to perform mini-concerts.
“The plan was to bring the experience of a Crooked Coast show and the joy and energy of live music to people who need it while keeping a nice, safe distance,” said band member Luke Vose in a video interview.
In addition to the trailer tour, the band also performed from a barge in Woods Hole on July 4 with fans climbing into boats of all shapes and sizes in order to take in the show. In August the band was able to organize its second annual Coast Fest music festival using the Falmouth Drive-In as its venue.
Over the course of the year, musicians and performance venues have upped their game when it comes to recording concerts for home audiences. The Cotuit Center for the Arts has recorded several concerts that can be purchased and viewed on demand including local singer/songwriter Dawna Hammers’ Joni Mitchell tribute show, “Back To The Garden.”
“They did such an amazing job filming it with three different cameras,” said Ms. Hammers in an ArtsFalmouth interview.
Ms. Hammers said she also performed several Facebook live concerts at the beginning of the pandemic, including a series of live videos for Earth Day, where she went to some of her favorite outdoor spots with her drums and flutes and performed. One silver lining about performing from home has been that Ms. Hammers can play on her piano. “You can’t bring a piano with you when you play out. I bring a keyboard but it’s not the same.”
Ms. Hammers has taken advantage of many of the opportunities provided by local organizations to perform in virtual events, such as the Sandwich Arts Alliance’s PorchFest and Jazztober, put on by ArtsFalmouth. Both events are still viewable online.
“With the pandemic I feel a great sense of responsibility to bring music to people,” said Ms. Hammers.